Upstream Arts Teaching Artists with a participant at Opportunity Partners

UA Teaching Artists with a participant at Opportunity Partners (photo: David Luke)


All Upstream Arts residencies include some element of theater. Often, this element takes the form of role-playing scenarios, which teach the fundamentals of acting while simultaneously offering opportunities to explore the nuances of navigating emotions, picking up on social cues, and problem-solving difficult situations.

After a session at Opportunity Partners this month, Matt, one of our Teaching Artists, told us about two participants, Laura* and Piper*, who had become friends over the course of their Upstream Arts residency. Laura told the group about a recent situation in which her and Piper’s shared line boss had tried to take a job away from Piper, assuming that Piper couldn’t do it. The situation was stressful, and Laura had angrily stood up for her friend.

To unpack the experience, as well as transition into some theater work, Matt invited Laura and Piper to recreate the situation. Tena May, another Upstream Arts Teaching Artist, played the boss. In the first round, Tena May told Piper she was taking her job away, and Piper responded hesitantly while Laura vehemently defended her. Matt stopped the scene, commended Laura for being honest and direct, then asked how things were going. Laura quickly acknowledged that both she and Tena May could have handled the situation better. They started the scenario again; only this time, Piper spoke for herself, loudly and clearly: “Don’t take that away, please.” Tena May, in character, apologized and clarified that she simply needed Piper to get the job done more quickly. Piper explained that she could work faster or, if need be, ask for help. “At which point,” recounted Matt, “Laura ended the scene by coming over, hugging Piper with tears in her eyes and saying, ‘I am so proud of you!'” Matt observed, “That felt pretty good when you told Tena May what you needed, didn’t it?” to which Piper smiled her enormous smile, a little embarrassed, but obviously proud, and replied, “Yes.”

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of participants.